First published on 15 Feb 2011. Updated on 5 Sep 2011.
Taylor Mac isn’t a fan of comparisons. Just ask the unwitting soul who asked him if his New York-based, cabaret-style act, compete with ukulele accompaniment, was inspired by Lady Gaga. Funny how fans of said pop monster seem blithely unaware of the vast oeuvre of stars who have informed the egg-riding Grammy limelight hog and not, as their revisionist theory would have it, the other way around.
Still, Mac is largely OK with such mindless evaluations, despite the misleading name of her latest show: ‘Comparison is Violence, or the Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook’. The show-stopping, glittered drag artist is no stranger to lazy journalistic shorthand of his larger than life show – hence the direct reference to David Bowie’s gender-bending creation, and the somewhat creepy American performance artist who scared the bejeebus out of kids.
Set in the intimate surrounds of the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Salon, Mac’s is an uproariously entertaining and surprisingly moving story of acceptance. Set against the backdrop of the supposedly impending cataclysm of the oncoming Armageddon (ask the Mayans - they’re tipping 2012) the premise revolves around the fact we don’t have very long to come to terms with our individual demons.
Mac claims to have processed her daddy issues, so the only thing left is the dumb-ass critics who persist in comparing her to other artists. If you can’t beat them, join them, hence the show sees Mac trawling the back catalogues of Ziggy and Tim, as well as drawing on her own material.
A captivating character, Mac has a warm and instantly entrancing persona that doesn’t have to rely on gimmicks. As the show goes on she request more and more audience participation, asks for the house lights to go up on more than one occasion and eventually discards her wig and a large proportion of her sequinned outfit.
She’s fearless, unafraid to bare her soul, and like many of the greatest performers, the laughter is tainted with a glimpse of deep sadness, and a dignified sense of inner strength. That’s the beauty of Mac; she represents an indomitable force, one that’s comfortable in her own skin, and invites you to be the same. Whether she’s commanding one half of a couple to sit with a complete stranger, while pashing the other on stage and smearing him in glitter, or encouraging the entire audience to mime blowing enormous gum bubbles as a thinly veiled attempt at engineering a standing ovation, she’s a trooper.
Early on she conjures up the image of the quirky Salon as a tomb-like representation of Cleopatra’s final resting place - part of a broader belief in the history of cabaret dating back to the ancient performance art tradition of the dramatic personae. This is traced via Shakespeare’s poetry right up to the look-at-me games of Gaga, in one reassuringly long tradition, amongst which the commanding Mac is a genuine leader for our times.